In the season's most substantial contract concession yet, Long Island's biggest teacher union has agreed to give up next year's raises as well as take temporary pay cuts.
The $11 million in givebacks by Brentwood teachers come as school districts across Long Island prepare to release budget proposals Tuesday amid growing signs of taxpayer resistance. Brentwood is the Island's fifth district this year to win contract concessions - a phenomenon affecting 3,300 teachers and last seen in the region during the early 1990s.
Concessions by the 1,400-member Brentwood Teachers Association will save more than 200 jobs, and preserve student services ranging from music classes to sports. The vote taken by union members Thursday was virtually unanimous, according to representatives who spoke to Newsday Monday.
"It shows the teachers care about the community, and they care about each other," said Joe Hogan, president of Brentwood's union.
Taxpayer groups note, on the other hand, that the great majority of the Island's more than 120 teacher unions have not yet agreed to give up any raises. The issue of teacher pay recently made headlines in New Jersey, where newly elected Gov. Chris Christie urged voters to reject any school budgets that didn't include concessions.
In New Jersey, 315 of 537 budgets went down to defeat last week - the biggest "no" vote there since 1976.
In recent weeks, the LIFER organization has plastered communities across the Island with fliers listing teachers' salaries in local school districts and demanding wage freezes.
The Islandwide impact of salaries and other expenses will become clearer Tuesday with the scheduled release of the state's annual Property Tax Report Cards, listing spending and tax proposals in all districts.
So far, one-year freezes or other substantial givebacks have been made by teacher unions in Brentwood, Half Hollow Hills, Port Washington, Roslyn and Sayville. Those unions represent about 3,300 teachers and other professional school workers, out of a regional total of more than 40,000.
Brentwood's agreement calls for teachers there to take pay freezes next year, including contractual raises and annual "steps" built into the salary schedule. In addition, teachers will take $900 individual pay cuts, which will be repaid without interest when they resign or retire.
In exchange, Brentwood, the Island's largest district, would extend the teachers' contract for three years, to June 2015. The contract originally was to expire in 2012. Raises received during that period will be based on the average of those received elsewhere by teachers in Islip Town.
The new agreement has been signed by Hogan and the district superintendent, Donna Jones, and is scheduled for a ratification vote by Brentwood's school board Wednesday.
Despite concessions, Jones says economic pressures could force the district to lay off as many as 60 teachers in June, and to leave unfilled another 30 positions vacated by resignation or retirement. The reason: Gov. David A. Paterson has proposed cutting more than $3 million in Brentwood's state operating aid, as part of efforts to close a state budget deficit.
Any aid restored to Brentwood by the State Legislature would be used, first, to curb property taxes and then to save jobs. But both district and union leaders warn their agreement might become void, if local residents reject next year's proposed $304.8-million budget.
"We still have a very challenging year ahead, but it certainly could have been much worse had we not come to an agreement," Jones said.
Where teachers' pay has been frozen
Long Island teacher unions that have accepted pay freezes this year:
Brentwood: No raises of any type next year, plus a $900-per-person pay cut to be repaid without interest at retirement.
Half Hollow Hills: A freeze on contractual raises in 2011-12. Step increases will not be impacted.
Port Washington: A freeze on contractual raises in the current year. Step increases will not be impacted.
Roslyn: A freeze on contractual raises and a six-month freeze on annual step increases, both for 2010-11.
Sayville: A half-year freeze on both contractual raises and step increases for each of the 2010-11 and 2011-12 school years.